Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America

Theses on the Article of Justification: A Refutation of the aclc’s Critique: Part Five

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Rev. Rydecki under Blog, Justification
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Part Five: Treating Calov with respect by following his argument and paying attention to his words, Part 2

(Excursus on Calov in context continued from the previous post)

Therefore, it does not at all mean that Christ was raised on account of our justification in the same way as He was delivered over by God to death on account of our sins. For this death of Christ is established as the meritorious cause of the expiation of our sins, even as our sins were the meritorious cause of the death of Christ, because by the merit of our sins He was delivered over into death in our place, so that by the merit of His death we might be freed from sin and its penalty, death.

We observe here that Calov speaks again of the “meritorious cause” of Christ’s death, namely, our sins, which earned death for Christ, which He willingly suffered. And he speaks again of the “meritorious cause” of the expiation of our sins, namely, the death of Christ, which earned for us freedom from sin and death, which we are to lay hold of by faith.

But, of course, it cannot be said concerning the resurrection of Christ that Christ merited righteousness for us by His resurrection; His exclamation from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), also confirmed that the earning of righteousness was finished at the time of His death.

Those who teach “Objective Justification” go back and forth on when they think God declared all men to be righteous, whether on Good Friday when Christ cried out, “It is finished!”, or on Easter Sunday when God supposedly absolved all people of their sins (leaving it for Man to discover and assert as an exegetical conclusion, rather than speaking it directly Himself), or a combination of the two in which the act of justification took place in God’s heart on Good Friday, while the public “declaration” of that prior justification of all men took place on Easter Sunday with the raising of Christ from the dead. Since they divorce God’s act of justifying sinners from the ministry of the Word and Sacraments and from faith, they are left having to search for another time when this mysterious act must have taken place.

But Calov does not place the act of justification on Good Friday or on Easter Sunday. What he speaks about, again, is the meriting or the earning of righteousness for us, which was accomplished once for all on Mt. Calvary on Good Friday. No other merit can be added to the merit of Christ’s death, not even the resurrection itself. Righteousness had already been earned for all “at the time of His death.” The justification of the sinner, however, takes place when the Word of Christ is preached and believed.

Therefore, Scripture speaks differently concerning the death of Christ than it does concerning His resurrection. For it says that Christ suffered and died both for our sake and in our place. However, He rose again, not in our place, but only for our sake.

The argument is often made by teachers of “Objective Justification” that, just as Christ suffered and died in our place, so He was justified in our place. Consider these conclusions that form part of the Doctrinal Proceedings of the 1860 Convention of The German Evangelical-Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States. Translation by Rev. David Juhl.

Here now the following emerging question enjoined itself in the synod: the phrase is always pronounced and is known by us: Through the resurrection of Christ from the dead, God has absolved the whole world, i.e. loosed from sins; if according to this the world is already long since absolved and loosed from sins, what then is absolution or preaching of the Gospel in the Church? Is it also an unmooring, or merely a proclamation of unmooring that has already happened?

Answer: The absolution of the entire world is done in God’s heart in the moment when redemption was done by the Lord Christ, and because the salvation stands accomplished before God even from eternity, then one can say: Absolution was in God’s heart even from eternity. But we do not yet have it….The Gospel is also not a proclamation that we are first redeemed and should be pardoned, but that we already are redeemed and pardoned, and absolution in the Gospel is none other than a reiteration of the actual absolution that has already happened through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…As surely as Christ has died, and died for all people, so surely God sees all people as dead for the sake of their sins…On the other hand, Christ is also raised in the stead of all people, thus all people are declared righteous in Christ; for Christ needed to be as the Righteous One for His person not by resurrection, but this has been done for our sake, He died and rose again in their place, and thus all are justified in Christ.

But Calov (mimicking Gerhard) makes a vital point here that demolishes the argument that all men have been justified in Christ. “For it says that Christ suffered and died both for our sake and in our place. However, He rose again, not in our place, but only for our sake.” Since Calov and Gerhard expressly denied the fundamental tenet of “Objective Justification” that Christ was raised and justified in our place, it is either truly ignorant or truly disingenuous for its modern-day proponents to continue claiming validity for their novel doctrine in these Lutheran fathers.

Calov now begins the section in which he quotes from Johann Gerhard’s Annotations on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the section on Romans 4:25.

Therefore, although the theologians sometimes speak of the resurrection of Christ as the meritorious cause of our justification, they understand the term “merit” only in a general sense, even as Blessed Gerhard taught in his commentary on this passage in answer to the question, Does the resurrection of Christ pertain to the merit that has been provided for us? He replies in this way:

The word “merit” is understood either generally as all that pertains to our justification; or specifically as that which Christ has provided for us and which we ourselves were obligated to provide. In the first sense, the resurrection of Christ pertains to merit, because the resurrection of Christ was required for our justification in the ways explained thus far. But with regard to the second sense, it does not pertain to merit, because, although Christ arose for our sake, He did not arise in our place, whereas He suffered and died, not only for our sake, but also in our place.

In which respects Christ’s resurrection was required for our justification, Blessed Gerhard explains in this way:

We notice at the outset that none of the three explanations below describe “our justification” as something that had already happened in God’s heart on Good Friday, prompting God to raise Jesus from the dead, although this is often claimed by teachers of “Objective Justification.” Indeed, the very fact that Christ’s resurrection was “required for our justification” demonstrates that the world was not “already justified in God’s heart” at the moment when Christ died.

(1) With respect to the manifestation and confirmation, because the resurrection of Christ is the clear testimony that full satisfaction has been made for our sins and that perfect righteousness has been procured. Chrysostom, Homily 9 on Romans: “In the resurrection it was demonstrated that Christ died, not for His own sins, but for our sins. For how could He rise again if He were a sinner? But if He was not a sinner, then He was crucified for the sake of others.”

Gerhard points out, first, that Christ’s resurrection makes manifest and confirms for us that full satisfaction had been made for our sins. As Calov says below, “the manifestation and confirmation of the expiation of sins and the demonstration of victory over death is certainly useful for our faith, but not for the merit of Christ.” That is, it is important for us to know by means of Christ’s victory over death that satisfaction has been made for our sins. But Christ had already finished earning justification for us before He rose.

(2) With respect to the application. If Christ had remained in death, He would not be the conqueror of death, nor could He apply to us the righteousness that was obtained at such a high price (Rom. 5:10, 8:34).

Second, Gerhard points out the necessity of the resurrection for our justification in that, as Calov says below, Christ is the “efficient cause” (that is, the one who effects or does something) of the application of His own righteousness to us. It is the risen Christ who applies His righteousness to sinners through the ministry of the Word and faith, thereby justifying us. He could not do this work if He had remained in death.

Finally we come to the much-celebrated quote of Calov that the ACLC includes in their critique of our theses:

(3) With respect to the actual absolution from sin. Just as God punished our sins in Christ, which were imposed on Him and imputed to Him as our bondsman, so also, by the very act of raising Him from the dead, He absolved Him from our sins that had been imputed to Him, and consequently He also absolves us in Him. The following passages refer to this: 1 Cor. 15:17, 2 Cor. 5:21, Eph. 2:5, Col. 2:12-13, Phil. 3:8-10, 1 Pet. 1:3.

As Pr. Rydecki noted in the appendix to his paper The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace, Gerhard says nothing here about the entire world having been absolved “in Christ.” Rather, he speaks of us (that is, baptized believers—see especially the passages referenced above by Gerhard) as those whom God absolves “in Him.”

The word “absolves” has been interpreted by teachers of “Objective Justification” to mean that God “absolved” all people in Christ at the moment when Christ was raised from the dead. This is not only incorrect because of the scope of Gerhard’s discussion (baptized believers as those who are “in Him” vs. the whole world), but also because of the time of the absolution.

Part of the problem may be due to a poor translation to which some cling. Absolvit in Latin can be either a perfect tense verb (translated either “he absolved” or “he has absolved”), or the same form can be a present tense verb (“he absolves”). The context alone can make the meaning clear. Those who have scoured the Fathers to find evidence of Walther’s Easter Absolution have latched onto this passage from Gerhard and insisted on a simple past tense translation, “absolved.” It apparently has not occurred to them that a perfect tense translation is equally valid, “has absolved,” that is, not at the punctiliar moment of Christ’s resurrection, but as we have all been baptized and absolved of our sins in Christ through the ministry of the Keys.

But even more likely is the present tense translation, which is suggested both by Gerhard’s use of the adverb proinde (“consequently, accordingly, in like manner”), and Calov’s reference below. Calov says, “Finally, when he says that in the risen Christ we are absolved from sin…” There he unmistakably uses a present tense, nos absolvi (present passive infinitive) a peccato as opposed to a perfect tense, nos absolutos esse.

But the final nail in the coffin for the claim that Calov here teaches “Objective Justification” is in Calov’s own qualification of Gerhard’s quote, which the ACLC has not included in their citation of Calov, because they have never bothered to read Calov in context.

Nevertheless, the following must be observed here: the manifestation and confirmation of the expiation of sins and the demonstration of victory over death is certainly useful for our faith, but not for the merit of Christ. He makes a definite distinction between the application of the righteousness of Christ and the merit of Christ, and he says that the risen Christ is the efficient cause of the application. But he does not say that the resurrection of Christ is the meritorious cause either of the righteousness of Christ or of its application. Finally, when he says that in the risen Christ we are absolved from sin, it is admitted to this extent, that since He was absolved from our sins that were imputed to Him, the expiation of our sins is certain, just as certain as our vivification and our blessed resurrection from the dead to blessed life. On account of this certainty that rests on the merit of the death of Christ, confirmed by the resurrection of Christ, we are said to be made alive in Christ and to have been raised with Christ (Eph. 2:5).

What does Calov think about Gerhard’s quote about the “actual absolution from sin”? He thinks it can only be “admitted” to the extent that “the expiation of our sins is certain.” Of course it is! But that is not “Objective Justification.”

Furthermore, Calov says that the expiation of our sins is “just as certain as our vivification and our blessed resurrection from the dead to blessed life.” He is not speaking about some sort of vivification of ours and our blessed resurrection from the dead that took place on Easter Sunday. He is speaking about events that only take place for believers in Christ. And the result of the merit of the death of Christ is that “we are said to be made alive in Christ and to have been raised with Christ (Eph. 2:5),” which pertains only to believers in Christ. Thus Calov himself states and at once confirms the meaning of Gerhard, that he only has believers in view in this “actual absolution from sin.”

Calov concludes his remarks on Romans 4:25:

But these things are not properly included in the meritorious cause of justification. For the resurrection is highlighted only for confirming faith on our part, or for the application through the Gospel of the righteousness obtained for us by Christ, but not meritoriously. Nor should we overlook the fact that the Apostle says, “Christ died for the sake of our sins,” but he does not say likewise that He was raised for the sake of our righteousness, which is in other places contrasted with sins, but for the sake of our justification. For if Christ had not been raised from the dead, neither could faith, which is invariably needed for justification, be certain, nor could righteousness be applied to us by Christ.

With these concluding words, Calov slams the door on those who would look back to him as a champion of “Objective Justification.” He points to the resurrection of Christ, not as the “absolution of the world,” nor as the proof that the world had already been justified, but as that which serves to “confirm our faith” and “apply through the Gospel the righteousness obtained for us by Christ.” He, along with Gerhard, portrays the resurrection of Christ as taking place, not because our justification had already occurred, but for the purpose of justifying us by faith—faith that is “invariably needed for justification.”

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